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Country Gentleman: Pass the deer, dear, and don't waste a bite

The Afan Woodland in Shinano, Nagano Prefecture, is pictured in this photo taken on July 10, 2017. (Photo courtesy of the C. W. Nicol Afan Woodland Trust)

When young Japanese people having their photographs taken give the two-fingered 'V' sign and say 'peace,' I inwardly wince. To give the two-fingered sign with your hand turned the other way, to the British, is absolutely the most insulting sign there is. The wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill supposedly instigated the sign as now used in Japan, but the story is that he was a cigar smoker and would raise his two fingers, with a fat cigar between them, when he was very annoyed at somebody. When remonstrated over this sign, the venerable old bulldog of a politician turned his fingers around, still with the cigar, and said "'V' for Victory." Whatever, the 'V' sign has nothing to do with peace!

Since feudal times, the two-fingered sign has been an insult and an invitation to fight. For over a thousand years, the hunting and eating of wild game animals, especially deer, has been the prerogative of royalty and aristocrats. In those olden times, should a commoner be caught killing a deer with a bow and arrow, the penalty was either to be hung or to have the index and middle finger chopped off, thereby making it impossible to draw a bow. The two-fingered sign became a signal from the deadly British longbow archers to their enemies, meaning 'look, I can still draw a bow, and I'm going to kill you!'

When I was a boy, it was very, very unusual for ordinary people to eat venison, although that is changing nowadays. You will find venison on the menu of many restaurants, and you can even find venison sausages in big British supermarkets.

At my home here in Shinshu, northern Nagano, nearly all of the red meat is venison. Venison is low in cholesterol and high in minerals, and if properly handled when killed, has no smell at all. Of course venison has its own taste, which I like, and I have even published a book on how to handle and cook it.

From Hokkaido to Yakushima, Japan has a huge problem with the damage done by deer to fields, orchards, and endangered wild plants. It is difficult to get accurate data, but something in the region of 400,000 deer are killed annually in Japan, with over 95 percent being buried or incinerated. This, in my opinion, is a crime and a terrible waste. From a single adult deer I can feed at least a hundred people, and with the larger Ezo deer I can feed a hundred and twenty people. Japan is the only country that I know that wastes deer, and when I tell British, European or North American friends they are shocked and astounded.

Not only does Japan waste venison, it even pays a bounty to hunters to kill deer, insisting that the carcasses be disposed of. Our Nagano governor Shuichi Abe is doing his best to rectify this, but it is an uphill battle. I too, for the last 30 years, have been promoting the use of venison, not only by serving it to all kinds and ages of people, but by persuading young sausage makers to use venison. Venison sausages are marvelous; we had them in a pot-au-feu just the other night. Whenever I enjoy a meal of venison I silently pat myself on the back; "There you are Nic, you really are a country gentleman!" My old Welsh grandfather would have been very pleased.

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This is the fifth installment of a regular column by author and conservationist C.W. Nicol.

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